Master Slave Dialectic and Social Maturity in Iran

Hegel thought of the master slave  struggle (or what he called “dialectic”) in terms of the moving force in history; the same force that Marx reduced to class struggle, and by doing so largely, but not entirely, distorted this profound concept.  Power and its unequal distribution in history and life, has divided humans into two large groups: the masters, or those who posses power, and the slaves who in serving the masters realizing and maintaining power, have been deprive of their own power.  But this condition is not stable, and at some point the slaves will rise against the masters, and in order to achieve equality will risk their lives.  At least, this is a rather simplified description of the modern history in which there is a happy ending, notwithstanding the fact that the chronicle of modern times is written with blood and sweat.  The upshot of the struggle between the master and slave, on this account, is that humans realize their potential agency and more or less attain freedom that is more or less equally distributed among the multitude, and therefore ushering the stage of human maturity and prosperity.

Modern history, however, has been much more complex in practice, while the general principles of master slave dialectic cannot be refuted.  Hegel often referred to the pain, suffering, and the enormous bloodletting in history and likened the world to a killing field and vale of tears where the blood of the innocent and the guilty have been and continue to be spilled.  Yet, he considered the outcome of the master slave struggle to usher in liberation for humanity.  But in the history of the modern world the master slave strife, in many instances, has simply ended in catastrophe.  The regime of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the twentieth century, which potentially could bring about agency for the lower classes in that country, not only did not liberate the masses, but in fact ended up killing millions of people from middle classes and even lower classes.  Similarly, the communist experience in the Soviet Union and the so-called Eastern Bloc, in which the struggle between the dominant masters and the masses aroused by the Bolsheviks assumed near global proportions, did not result in much agency for the average person, while millions upon millions were killed during the seventy years of brutal communist rule.  In the early to mid-twentieth century, the Germans and Japanese projected the master slave dialectic to different registers.  They projected the struggle for power to the war between nations, ethnicities and races.  The result was the annihilation of both the master and slave and many of those who were located between these two poles of power complex.  In the twentieth century, only China, it seems, has (to some extent) survived the struggle between the master and slave, offering the former slaves some power and pushing them toward the thresholds of acquiring agency.  But the price was at least twenty million people killed in the Cultural Revolution.

What about Iran’s experience in this regard?  There is no doubt that what has taken place in Iran in the past few decades, is closely related to the struggle between the powerful classes and the disempowered people.  There is no doubt that the revolution of 1979 was a variation of the master slave struggle and the deep-seated social changes that followed that revolution has profoundly transformed the people of the country and its social structure.  Some of the former masters, perished under the sword of those who claimed to represent the slaves, and rest chose diaspora, leading a relatively quiet life thanks to their transplanted assets.  With the foreign invasion of the country, a considerable energy of the master slave struggle was transposed outside Iran which ameliorated its otherwise potentially more sever course.  Importantly, in this process a large number of Iran’s former slave or “semi-slave” achieved considerable degrees of agency and sense of selfhood that had been denied them for centuries.  In respect to empowerment of the downtrodden people in Iran, despite the enormous toll that was taken of Iranian people of all walks of life and material devastation of the country that occurred in this process, in comparison with many other parts of the world, Iran’s experience has been less painful and more fruitful (at least until now).  Perhaps one reason for this relative success is that the process of empowerment of the masses in Iran was was mediated by religion, making it less violent.

Yet, more importantly, because the process of acquiring agency and subjectivity among the Iranians was to a large extent near-universal, involving large numbers of people (but not including ethnic and religious groups), its configuration is no longer mere subjectivity but has morphed into intersubjective relations.  In other words, many of Iranian people who have acquired power, agency and subjectivity in the past decades constitute a distinct social group who does not wish to hold onto power on a monopolistic basis and is conscious of the idea that in a good society power should be more or less equally distributed.  This social group that is mostly comprised of the youth, educated women and college students, has thus achieved a high level of maturity owing its intersubjective characteri.  When this social group insists upon demanding its social and political rights, it does not engage in a master slave struggle, because it does not consider itself as slave and therefore does not believe in struggle in its traditional format.  This group is unrelenting in its pursuit of citizenship and democratic rights, but because of its intersubjective traits, it largely avoids violence.

In the same process in Iran, however, there has developed a relatively smaller group of former slaves and downtrodden people, who have acquired a large degree of agency and power.  This group is terrified of loosing its newly attained power and greedily wishes to monopolize for itself.  The members of this group, who have now entrenched themselves in the various compartments of the state apparatus in Iran, are not willing to share their newly acquired power which is essential for social and political stability in any country.  It is incumbent that these people be taught that the age of master slave struggle has ended, at least in Iran.  In a society in which universal agency and intersubjectivity is institutionalized, no one should fear loosing power.  Everyone, by playing according to the rules of intersubjectivity, can participate in a democratic game of pursuing power and the related advantages.

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